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On January 4th of this year, I posted the following article in response to a person who found his or her way to my blog via a search engine.  This morning, October 26th, 2013, I received a comment on this post.  The person who commented was offended by my belief that if one wants to heal C-PTSD and gets the skilled help to do that, then healing is possible–at least healing is possible to some extent.  I am not deluded into thinking that I will heal my C-PTSD completely, but I am working to heal as much as I can so that I can enjoy the final years of my life without the miserable symptoms of PTSD and without some of the relational problems I’ve had in the past.  Research supports my belief that C-PTSD can be at least partially healed if the person involved wants to do that  and gets skilled help.  The posts I’ve read by other C-PTSD bloggers support this, also.  C-PTSD is a disorder that, unlike some severe mental health issues, is healable if a person chooses to go that route.  The route is long, hard, and painful, but it’s possible, thanks to brain research and modern methods of therapeutic intervention, to undo at least some of the damage that has been done by neglect in childhood, abuse of all sorts, and sexual battery and molestation. 

Here is the comment I found on my Google blog: “Jean, it may be true for you but not for everyone. I find the statement that one must want to recover, choose  to heal, pretty offensive. Glad it worked for you but do never think you can speak for every person with C-PTSD.”  If you feel you can help me understand why this reader has been offended, please let me know so that I can be more careful in what I say in future blog posts.  My goal is to let people know that C-PTSD is healable.  I don’t want to offend anyone!  Below is my original post:

In Response to “How long does complex PTSD last?” 

Today somebody found my blog by typing “How long does complex ptsd last?” into the Google search engine.  I’d like to address that question briefly–
From what I have learned through my own experience and by asking mental health professionals, I believe that C-PTSD lasts until the person who has the condition decides to commit to healing and then does the necessary work to bring healing about.   For those of us who have the condition, C-PTSD, the good news is that the condition can be dealt with and healing can take place.  Through our own efforts, WE can heal ourselves–with the help of a gentle, trained, and understanding therapist.  C-PTSD is NOT an incurable disease, and it is NOT a condition that is cured passively through medication.  If one wants to recover from C-PTSD, one needs to commit to putting forth the effort to do the necessary work with a specially trained therapist.   So the answer to the question of how long C-PTSD lasts is this: “The amount of time C-PTSD lasts is controlled/determined by the client and the therapy/healing process of the client.”   A person with the condition can choose to do nothing about his or her C-PTSD, and the condition will remain unchanged or worsen.  On the other hand, if a person is determined and committed to his or her healing, then with diligence and competent help, that person will heal.   The reality I have accepted is that at age 73, I will probably never be completely free from all aspects of my C-PTSD, but I’m doing my best–and succeeding!–to heal as much as I can in the years I have left.  
 
Any amount of healing I do improves the quality of my inner life.  So at least I can tell myself that if I hang in there, my inner life will continue to improve.  For me, continuous improvement is good enough.  If I were a lot younger, I might not settle for “good enough,” but in my case, “good enough” is good enough.   If I were, say, in my thirties or forties, I might consider entering into a permanent relationship, a mutually satisfying relationship, mature and balanced–healthy, in other words.  If that were the case, and if that were what I wanted in life, I would perhaps become more determined to “finish” healing–if anyone really finishes healing. But at my present age, I just want to be more peaceful inside myself and enjoy my last years of life.  At my age now, I’m not sure that I have the energy to put into making a full-time relationship with a partner work.  I have too many projects that I want to finish before I “fall off my perch”–a euphemism I learned from a distant relative in Scotland.  Energy that I would put into a relationship would be energy I would not have to finish up the projects I want to finish.  So, as I said, in my case, “good enough” is good enough. The above, then, is my attempt to answer the question appearing in the title of this post.  I hope this helps!  Jean
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This morning I read a post by another blogger, Anna Rose Meeds, who publishes Rose With Thorns on Word Press (http://annarosemeeds.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/opening-up-to-the-world/).  I follow her blog and recommend it to all of you.  Among the challenges in Anna Rose’s life are Aspergers, PTSD, and eating disorders–pretty tough issues!  I am impressed by the courage she has shown in writing about her life and her challenges, for she tackles some topics that are familiar to many of us but which few of us discuss.  Two such topics that she covered in her latest post are “over-sharing” and self harm, cutting.  After I read her latest post, “Opening Up to the World,” I was inspired to also write about these two topics because at one time I, too, struggled with these issues.  I’m a lot older than Anna Rose, and my challenges were and are somewhat different from hers, but I thought that maybe my story might be helpful to those of you who are struggling.  Her story was certainly helpful to me! 

My story begins back in the late 70s, after my family and I returned from living for two years in what at the time was West Berlin, Germany.  When I write about this now, I feel like such a fool.  I was so naïve! I did not know that my husband had been dating other women, one of them fairly seriously.  I didn’t know this until later, until after I had become a single parent.  But the point is that a lot was going on in my family that should not have been going on, and at some level my mind picked up on it, but I was not consciously aware of it.  There was the cheating, but even worse, my husband exhibited sexual behaviors that I knew intuitively were not quite on track, and I had nobody to ask about this.  However, what bothered me more than anything was the lack of privacy he afforded our daughter, especially when she took her bath.  I let him know that at her age, 12, she needed privacy, but he paid no attention to me.  I also let him know that his walking around the house with nothing but his underwear on was not a good idea.  He let me know that I was old-fashioned and a prude and that he was not going to change.  After all, he was in charge of what went on in his home.  I felt powerless to do anything but try to make sure my daughter got her bath before he came home from work or while he was outside working on our farm. 

As time passed, my stress level rose, and I found myself frequently spacing out and numbing, but I didn’t know why this was happening.  Then one night during an especially tense, painful interaction with my husband, I had a flashback that took me back to my experience of violent childhood sexual abuse when I was four, a memory that I had buried for almost four decades.  Again, I had nobody to talk to about this flashback, so, scary as it was, I kept it to myself.  I did tell my husband in hopes that he would have compassion for me and stop tormenting me in bed, but my revelation meant nothing to him, and he continued abusing me.  In fact, he became rougher with me.  Later, after we had separated, I asked him why he escalated the abuse during sex, and he replied that he wanted to see if there was anyone in my body.  I was dissociating during his abuse, and he could sense that I was not “there.”  His solution?  Get rougher, for eventually I would be forced to let him know I was there.  His tactic didn’t work, but if the situation had continued much longer, he might have killed me.  He told me that.

During this time, as the tension built, I fell apart inside, fragmented.  I didn’t know what was happening to me;  I just knew that something was happening that caused me to “come apart at the seams.”  That was the way it seemed to me.  I felt like Humpty Dumpty, as if I were broken into little bits and couldn’t put myself back together.  And when people asked me, “How are you?”, I told them.  As Anna Rose says, I “over-shared.”  I gave them much more information about my inner life than anyone cared to know, I’m sure.  And then, later, when I had a quiet moment to think about what I had done, I realized that my over-sharing had made people uncomfortable, and I felt like a freak.  That was not ME!  The “me” I knew did not reveal my inner thoughts or my pain to others!  That sort of thing was a social no-no, and I knew that.  So why did I do it?  I didn’t know.  Maybe I was going crazy.  Maybe not! 

Then one day before Easter in 1981 I walked in on my husband as he was fondling our daughter.  I reported him to the police and reported the incident to the therapist I was seeing for depression.  That was a turning point.  I became a single parent, continued in therapy,  went to graduate school, found a job I enjoyed, and made friends.  As time passed and I gained some control of my life, I also began gaining confidence in myself.  And then one day I realized that I had stopped over-sharing.  Just like that. 

Why did I over-share?  Well, since the period of time when I did that corresponded to the period of time when I was least confident and seemed the most fragmented, I can only imagine that the pressures from my environment and the lack of organization of my mind caused me to behave in ways that were not normal for me.  My inner turmoil was such that over-sharing gave me some release.  Over-sharing, however, also left me embarrassed and caused me to become reclusive so I would have less opportunity to talk to people at a time in my life when I truly needed friends and contacts.  Those days are over, now, and one lesson I learned during those horrible times is to have a bit of compassion for my imperfect self. 

Just as over-sharing may have given me some release from the pressures of my inner turmoil, cutting provided me short-term release from psychic pain.  I’ve since read material explaining how inflicting physical pain upon oneself can provide relief from psychic pain, and that was my experience back in April of 1981.  Luckily, about six months prior to reporting my husband, I had begun therapy.  My therapist diagnosed me as having a situational depression.  The problem was that we did not know what the “situation” was–it was as much of a mystery to me as it was to her.  I had a vague notion of being at fault for whatever was happening to my family, but I could not tell my therapist specifically what I had done. 

As for the abuse I suffered, I didn’t tell my therapist because to me being abused was normal, and I thought it was normal for other women.  Why would something as normal as being the object of rough sex and being constantly reminded that I was stupid be important enough to tell my therapist?  However, when I found my husband abusing our daughter and reported him, I was able to identify the “situation.”  And since I was already in therapy, I didn’t have to waste time finding a therapist I liked.  That was a good thing, for my psychic pain was excruciating and unrelenting during the first few months after my husband left.  And somehow I discovered that I found relief from that horrible psychic pain when I took a paring knife and cut into the skin on my thighs and when I beat my head on the sharp corner of our bedroom door frame. 

As I remember it, after a few months, the cutting and the head-beating behaviors faded into the background.  My therapist and I became closer, and as I met people I enjoyed when I volunteered at the Salvation Army food bank, the pain subsided to the point where I didn’t feel the need for relief.  Because I had felt so guilty, I didn’t tell my therapist about the cutting until I no longer needed to do it .  I knew cutting was wrong, but at the time I did it, I needed to do it.  The guilt I felt intensified my sense of failure as a human being and made me all the  more miserable.  By the time the pain subsided to the point where I didn’t need to cut myself, I felt strong enough to let my therapist know I had been doing it, and to my great relief, she didn’t get angry with me or yell at me.  She put her arms around me and asked me to promise her I would tell her if I did it again.  I never did it again. 

As you know, I am seventy-four years old, older than most of you, and it’s been over thirty years since I suffered to the point of needing to cut myself and needing to “over-share.”  But those periods of my life, all the pain, the horrible incidents of abuse, will stay with me as memories until I die.  Now, thanks to my work in therapy and EMDR, when I remember the events, I don’t feel the distress as I once did.  I have found some peace.  I wish the same for you! 

John Chrysostom“Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has, and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.”  –St. John Chrysostom    

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For a while, now, I’ve sensed that I am reaching the point where I will no longer need to be in therapy. Oh, I don’t mean that I am “cured” or even completely “healed” from C-PTSD. I don’t believe that C-PTSD is ever completely gone from a person’s psyche. But I do believe that a person can reach the point where C-PTSD is manageable without the support of therapy. And I believe I’m reaching that point.

As you know, I’ve been working on my healing for many, many years—sometimes with a therapist and sometimes on my own. My active journey began in about 1980 when I was married, raising two kids, taking care of my family and working at a part-time job. That’s when I had my first flashback, the one that brought vividly to mind my sexual abuse at age four.

Prior to that flashback, I had some odd experiences which I can identify now as having been dissociative experiences, but at the time, I just chalked them up as “odd experiences” and forged ahead with my life. One particularly memorable experience took place in a train car one day when I lived in West Berlin, Germany, in the 1970s. I was eager to get home from the produce market, so I took the U-Bahn rather than the bus. The car was crowded, and I found myself pushed into a corner, unable to move. A fog came over my mind, and suddenly, I was up on the ceiling of the train car, looking down at myself, a figure pressed into the corner by the bodies of the other riders. The train stopped, people left the car, I had a bit more room, and I popped back into my body. An odd experience, one that I didn’t forget, but one I was afraid to talk about. I filed that experience in the mental file in which I stored the derealization and depersonalization experiences that filled my childhood. Not something I wanted to talk about!

I first entered therapy in October of 1980 because I had auditory hallucinations that interfered with my daily functioning. In order to take care of my home life and my work life, I talked out loud, directing my behavior aloud so that I could hear myself and follow my own directions. I was not capable of hearing my inner voice, my thoughts, because my thoughts were all scrambled and buried under the loud classical music I heard in my head. But when I told myself out loud what I needed to do, I could hear my voice and follow my own instructions. I knew I had to do something about my situation, that I could not continue living in that condition, so I made an appointment and began the therapy journey that has brought me to the point where I am now—thirty-three years later.

I’ve seen a lot of therapists, some effective and some not so effective. I will say that even the ineffective therapists have been, for the most part, concerned and well-intended; the problem was that most of them neither understood my condition nor understood how to help me. One I saw in the late 1990s both understood and knew how to help but moved before he could help me. A few were so in need of help themselves that they traumatized me in their attempts to help themselves. So from 1983, the year my first therapist retired, until 2010, the year I began seeing my present therapist, my therapeutic journey led me through a wasteland of partial oases and lots of seemingly-endless miles of burning hot sand. Why didn’t I just give up? My answer to that question is that I had a wonderful therapist in the beginning of my journey, so I knew that wonderful and effective therapists existed and I knew that sooner or later, if I just kept looking, I would find another one. And I have. I’m a stubborn old gal, and I’m not the easiest client to work with, most likely. But, then, my therapist is pretty stubborn, too.

Thursday she and I are going to see if we can do some planning for my future therapy. I’m glad we are doing this. She and I both sense a shift in my focus, and I feel good knowing that we are working together to understand and figure out what I need. There have not been many times in my life where another person has cared enough to see life through my eyes and to understand what I need. My parents were incapable of this, and my former husband was too busy satisfying his own selfish and sick needs at the expense of our children and me. So just knowing that my therapist cares enough to put forth the effort needed to understand me and work with me to plan my therapy is validating for me.

I called my therapist yesterday afternoon, after I returned home from seeing her. She had teased me about the fact that I do so much of my work outside my sessions, and on my way home, I began worrying that maybe she felt unneeded. I wanted her to know that was not the case, so I called her. She returned my call, and I told her my concern. I let her know that without her, I could not have succeeded in alleviating my PTSD symptoms and achieving the sense of peace that I experience now. What has she done that has been the most helpful? Well, she has been herself, her kind and wonderful self, but even more important: she has had faith in my ability to succeed in therapy. She has had faith in me. And her faith in me has worked wonders!

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
– King James Bible “Authorized Version”, Cambridge Edition

My prayerful wish for you is that you, too, have a therapist who has faith in you, and, even more important, may you have faith in yourself! Shalom . . .

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